It is undoubtedly true that the best views are to be had from high places, although as musical hall star Gus Elen observed:
Wiv a ladder and some glasses
You could see the ’Ackney Marshes
If it wasn’t for the ’ouses in between
So, it’s all the better when you have an isolated peak, one left off the end of the range, or simply popping up, providing a fabulous 360-degree view, the sense of the entire Earth at your feet.
I’d even suggest that, with a couple of judicious additions, you could link all these in one magnificent UK-bisecting yomp, zig-zagging your way up the country, hopping from one visible peak to the next.
And autumn would be the season for it: the best time for pulling on your boots, when the trees are changing colour, when curls of mist haunt the hollows and when distant peaks might have a dusting of snow.
Wills Neck, Quantocks, Somerset
The Quantocks are not very tall, but they pack a powerful panoramic punch. Wills Neck is the highest point at 384 metres, part of a ridge of rock (memorably termed Hangman Grit) that includes several other excellent panoramic points. Start by heading up Lydeard Hill, then climbing to the summit where there’s a trig point. The name Wills Neck is thought to derive from a tribe, the Wealas, who ambitiously took on the Romans here, and lost. On a clear day you can see across the Bristol Channel to the Brecon Beacons, plus Dartmoor and Lewesdon Hill, the highest point in Dorset. From the summit descend to Triscombe, then Rock Farm and West Bagborough.
• Map OS Explorer 140 Car park Lydeard Hill, near West Bagborough Distance 2.6 miles to the summit, 5½ miles for the circuit Refuel Head to Bishops Lydeard for Daisy Cottage tearooms among others Route visorando.co.uk
Bredon Hill, the Cotswolds
At 299 metres isn’t the highest point in the Cotswolds, but Bredon Hill definitely outshines taller peaks such as Cleeve Hill for views. The walk up starts at the pretty village of Overbury, heads north through fields and woodland and then picks up the Wychavon Way, to turn west and climb to the summit. Here there is a useful landmark, Parsons’ Folly, a structure that conveniently makes the height of the hill-and-tower precisely 1,000 feet. Scattered around are various standing stones and the curvaceous bumps of an iron age hill fort. Bredon has excellent panoramas of the surrounding countryside, sufficient to inspire several poets including AE Housman and John Masefield. On a good day, you can spot Corndon Hill, 54 miles to the north-west.
• Map OS Explorer 190 Car park in Overbury Distance 5 miles Refuel The Yew Tree pub in Conderton Route gps-routes.co.uk
Corndon Hill, Shropshire/Powys
Little wonder that our bronze age ancestors dotted this dolerite massif with tombs – it stands alone surveying the ancient wrinkled faces of the other Shropshire hills to the east and the Welsh hills to the west. There are two possible starts: one is north of the hill at the car park for Mitchell Folds Stone Circle, a popular spot with druids, witches and pagans for the past 3,000 years. Follow the farm track south, briefly on tarmac, then after a few hundred metres take the path uphill with a wood on the right. It’s a steep climb but there’s a bench at the top for a magnificent 360-degree view. The second, longer, route is to start at Roundton Hill nature reserve to the south, where there’s a good panoramic warm-up to the main event. From here head north for a mile, crossing the Wales-England border, to the 513-metre summit of Corndon. On a clear day the views are spectacular with Herefordshire Beacon in the Malvern Hills (see below) 45 miles away.
• Map OS Explorer 216 Car park a rough lane off the road near Priest Weston village leads to a small car park for Mitchell Folds Distance short route 2 miles, long 5 miles Refuel plenty of choices in the nearby towns such as Churchstoke (Archie Lily’s Cafe) and Montgomery (Castle Kitchen) Route montwt.co.uk
Herefordshire Beacon, Malvern Hills
Another classic and another gigantic fort: the Beacon was once home to an estimated 20,000 warriors, still not enough to prevent the British chieftain Caractacus being captured here in AD75, then carted off to Rome to be paraded and killed. Fortunately, he gave a powerful speech to the Senate and was granted clemency. This quick and easy climb goes up from the car park to the summit where you can try to spot 12 counties. At 338 metres, the summit can just about claim to be a mountain. Leave time to explore the defensive ditches and earthworks, then continue south over Millennium Hill to Hangman’s Hill, a good picnic spot.
• Map OS Explorer 190 Car park British Camp on the A449 between Malvern and Ledbury Distance 2 miles Refuel Sally’s Place cafe is right next to the car park and open daily (outdoor seating only) Route walkingbritain.co.uk
Thorpe Cloud, Peak District
This isolated limestone outcrop is the first hill I can remember climbing. It stands at the mouth of Dovedale and commands superb views of the surrounding countryside from a lofty 287 metres. It is a quick mile-long walk from Dovedale car park, a walk then best continued by heading up Dovedale itself towards the beauty spots of the stepping stones. Here many people turn back, so things get quieter as you reach Reynard’s Cave and the Milldale, where you can loop west and back to the start. Alternatively, at the stepping stones turn south-east down Lin Dale. And if you’re ever there at summer solstice time, watch out for the double sunset that happens over Thorpe Cloud’s northern shoulder.
• Map OS Explorer OL24 Car park Narlow Lane Distance many options between 2 and 10 miles Refuel Head into Ashbourne for several choices; the National Trust’s Ilam Park has the Stableyard Grab and Go cafe, open daily till 4pm Route my.viewranger.com
Roseberry Topping, North York Moors
A local Sunday afternoon favourite but well worth a visit, this outlier of the North York Moors is on the Cleveland Way, one of the UK’s great long-distance paths. You can use the car park on the A173 near Newton-under-Roseberry and sprint up the 320 metres in half an hour, but this is a spot worth savouring. Better start from Great Ayton and do the seven-mile circuit that includes Cook’s Monument, an 18-metre tall obelisk to Captain Cook. The view here is excellent, although not a 360, so it’s really just a starter to the main dish of Roseberry Topping, where you should be able to spot Great Whernside in the Pennines, 43 miles away.
• Map Explorer OL26 Car park High Green in Great Ayton Distance 7½ miles Refuel Great Ayton has the memorable Velveteen Rabbit Luncheon Club; takeaways available, but book ahead if you want to sit inside Route northyorkmoors.org.uk
Catbells, Lake District
The selection of great panoramas in the Lakes is extensive, but Catbells packs some punch for what is a relatively small fell at 453 metres. Start from Hawes End car park and head south up the ridge to the summit, where you have a fine prospect of Derwent Water with its various islands, plus Helvellyn beyond with a magnificent array of other fells.
• Map OS Explorer OL4 Car park Hawes End Distance 3½ miles Refuel Keswick has plenty of choice, including the quirky Mrs F’s Route walklakes.co.uk
Merrick, Dumfries and Galloway
I’m not sure what’s the longest view I’ve ever enjoyed in the British Isles, but Merrick is a hill in Galloway that is reputed to have a 140-mile view south to Snowdon. Start from Loch Trool with a moment to admire the Bruce stone, marking where, in 1307, Robert the Bruce began his long campaign against the English. Pass Kilsharg bothy on the way up and finally cross the wonderfully named Nieve of the Spit ridge to reach the summit with views of the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Helvellyn and, if you are luckier than most, Snowdon, 140 miles to the south as the crow flies.
• Map OS Landranger 77. Car park 4 miles north from Glentrool village at the end of the road Distance 8¼ miles Refuel head to Newton Stewart for Brew Haha cafe among others Route walkhighlands.co.uk
Goat Fell, Arran
An island with one big hill in the middle ought to be a dead cert for a great panoramic walk – although the first time I tried to ascend Goat Fell the wind was so powerful I couldn’t get to the top. The path starts near Brodick and climbs through the trees on to exposed boulder fields with good views all the way to the top at 874 metres. Here the views of the Firth of Clyde can be fabulous and sometimes it’s possible to see as far as Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland, 104 miles to the south-west.
• Map OS Explorer 361 Car park near the Wineport Bistro and Arran Brewery Distance 6½ miles Refuel Wineport Bistro Route walkhighlands.co.uk
Mussenden Temple, County Derry
Because of coastal erosion, this fine 18th-century monument is perilously close to the edge of the cliffs overlooking Downhill Strand – and the views have become ever-more spectacular (stabilisation work has, hopefully, halted that process). Start the walk at Bishop’s Gate and head towards the ruined Downhill House, then directly to the temple itself 36 metres above the beach. It’s not really a full 360 panorama, but the sweeping coastal aspect is certainly fully dramatic, and on a good day you will spot the Hebridean Paps of Jura, also visible from Goat Fell and Merrick, linking us back to that great zig-zag panoramic journey through the UK.
• Map OS sheet 4. Car park Bishop’s Gate entrance to Downhill Demesne National Trust site – advance booking required Distance 2 miles Refuel Al’s Coffee kiosk is near the car park Route nationaltrust.org.uk